Sunday, May 31, 2020

Series Showdown: Horn vs Man From UNCLE

Horn started out strong, promising to become one of the all time greats, but got tamer and more conventional with each installment.  The Man From UNCLE had more variable quality, an artifact of multiple authors.  Napoleon and Ilya briefly came in the lead before being overtaken by Horn and Winger shooting it out in a casino.  Horn wins the first Series Showdown!

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Horn 3: The Outland Strip by Ben Sloane

Horn 3
The Outland Strip
by Ben Sloane
1990, Gold Eagle

Zamora, the cartel heir from the last installment, needs to earn quick cash to get his uncle out of jail to reveal the hidden family billions.  He also wants to kill a prison snitch, who escaped an assassination attempt which kills an old cop days from retirement.  The snitch has taken off for the Outland Strip, a lunar gambling complex which is putting Las Vegas and Atlantic City out of business.  Zamora teams up with other mobbed up, terrestrial casino owners and kills two birds with a multi-million ton garbage scow filled with nuclear waste.

Horn is more guilt ridden than usual, as he dumped his informant transport assignment on his buddy.  Him and Winger head up to the moon, where they face bounty hunters on both sides of the law, those looking to kill the snitch and the others to earn the Federal bounty.

Slow to get started, and continues the mellowing tone since the first book, but gives some excellent action sequences near the end.  Of note is a firefight through a casino indoor shopping strip, making use of an indoor monorail, which checks a lot of boxes for me.

It didn't take advantage of the setting as much as it could, as Horn and Winger fiddle around alleys and such just like they did on Earth.  Sloane continues to tease a romance between Horn and the feisty assistant DA, but I don't think the series will last long enough for this to be a Sam/Diane thing.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The Man From UNCLE 3: The Copenhagen Affair by John Oram

The Man From UNCLE 3
The Copenhagen Affair
by John Oram
1963, Ace Books

Napoleon and Ilya uncover a THRUSH flying saucer factory in Denmark.  Less reliant on capture/escape set pieces than most of the series, with stronger characterization and emotion than the others I've read.  You get a better sense of risk and sacrifice from the good guys, and even a sense of fear and regret from the henchmen.  There's a very effective torture scene which relies only on the reactions of those who witnessed it.  The plotting was a little different with multiple climaxes, each with lower stakes.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Romon U-Park

Romon U-Park is a Chinese knock-off of Lotte World, looks like one of those Chinese projects that costs a trillion dollars and five people go to it.  There are a couple of roller coasters, but otherwise not much to it other than this monorail, which looks incredible.  The whole thing looks like doll house until you see somebody walking around to give it a sense of scale.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Series Showdown: The Man From UNCLE vs Space 1999

The Man From UNCLE series has original stories, fast paced, though a titch formulaic.  Space 1999 basically crams four abridged scripts rewrites.  No contest - The Man From Uncle faces Horn in the finals.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Access America

I still don't know what to think of Fred Willard.  It's clear he's playing a dim, unfunny hack on purpose in things like Fernwood 2Night and Best in Show, but was he being subversively ironic when doing the same for Real People or Access America, a bit like Bob Sagat did on America's Funniest Home Movies?  His Ace Trucking Company skits range from bits of anti-humor mocking comedy itself to just plain unfunny 70s TV sketches.

I have the same dilemma with Junior Samples - a genius with perfect delivery who never drops character, or a dumb hick who can't remember his lines?  In the end it doesn't matter, he's the best part of Hee Haw.

And the best part of Fred Willard, other than him repeating the catchphrase from The Courtship of Eddie's Father, is Fernwood 2Night, the show that made me appreciate Fred Willard and forgive him for Access America.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Space 1999 2: Moon Odyssey by John Rankine

Space 1999 2
Moon Odyssey
by John Rankine
1975 Futura

Another four episodes.  The first child on Alpha grows to adulthood in hours, a terraforming probe goes wrong, and the crew run into themselves in an alternate universe.  The best story involves a scientist who developed a second Voyager probe, but one with a neutron drive that inadvertently left a trail of death across the galaxy.

Better source material than the first, but worse writing.  Rankine barrels through at record speed - you could probably read these quicker than watching the episodes, and some of the text is British to the point of being unreadable.

Paperback from AbeBooks

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Missing 411: North America and Beyond

Missing 411: North America and Beyond

Finally got my hands on one of the Missing 411 books.  In brief, the books cover mysterious disappearances of hikers and campers in the wilderness, with an implication that they are connected.  Based on the publicity around the books, I theorized that the author has no hypothesis and just insinuates that "something" is going on.  Let's see how wrong I was.

I wanted to see what the selection criteria was, seeing as I'm assuming we won't be dealing with urban missing persons, non-custodial parental kidnappings, lost at sea, etc.  Quickly on we're given the "criteria for inclusion", which is anything but.  Instead of criteria (things that must exist to be included), we get random elements which may or may be included: disabled persons, bad weather, the involvement of berries.  Some criterion are just assertions, for example, that most disappearances happen in the late afternoon or that many are unconscious when found.

So right out of the gate we've got problems.  Not only do we not know what the selection criteria is, the author doesn't know what the concept is.  Looking at the cases at random, there's a very mixed bag.  The State and National park system gets a lot of coverage, but the books aren't limited to that.  We've got other wilderness areas, children wandering away from their rural homes, and at least one missing from a college campus.  Most seemed to be unsolved disappearances, but several involve people being rescued or finding their way back on their own.  Some of these have an element of missing time or children unable to account for what happened, but in others the survivors have a completely reasonable accounting of what happened.

The real selection criteria are accounts of people getting lost which David Paulides thinks are weird.

From Paulides' interviews and promotions, I was expecting things a lot more inexplicable, something like:

For the last century, every seven years, always on May 2nd, a five year old blonde boy disappears from a camp in Yellowstone National Park.  A search party is called, only for the boy to be found six hours later in the Australian outback.  He remembers nothing of his experience, and has somehow developed a French accent.

Instead we get stuff like:

A sixty five year old man in poor health started a ten mile hike at sundown in his sandals.  He was caught in a snowstorm and his body was never found.

I'm paraphrasing, but the additional details in the actual accounts just further explain how explicable it was for these people to get lost.

I read the first three entries, all of which were pretty standard "lost in the woods" scenarios.  The first had a guy camping for weeks alone in Alaska.  The second was an overweight man in his 50s with poor eyesight and medical problems who got lost on his four wheeler.  The third was a man his 60s running a marathon up a mountain without his glasses.

David Paulides is a man who is as easily impressed as he is baffled.  In Paulides' world, everybody knows where they are at all times, should easily be able to find their way back to civilization, never panic or get disoriented, and if they are lost they should be easily found.  Therefore, those that aren't found is evidence that something else is going on.

In reality, people get lost, when you get lost it's hard to find your way back, people get dehydrated, suffer exposure, and experience panic.  FLIR doesn't always work, especially with thick foliage or winter coats, and you can step three feet from a body under some brush and never find it. 

I read a couple of news accounts of forest rescues, and the running theme is: finding people in the woods is hard, they're lucky to be found, and usually the lost have to do most of the work.  I read one account of a helicopter with FLIR finding a woman in the dark, ten yards from a search party, and the helicopter radioing in directions, and they still had trouble finding her.

Mundane events have hidden significance.  Things like lost shoes, children who are able to walk a mile an hour, or people walking uphill.  He finds connections based on the loosest threads.  Two incidents involve children lost in the rain.  Two people get lost at different times twenty miles from each other.  Coincidence?

Paulides gives a summary of each case, each of which is along the lines of "this person shouldn't have gotten lost", "this person should have been found quicker", and "this case has similarities with another case".

There is a lot of references to clusters - the selection criteria for these aren't explained in this volume and are probably the same as cases in general.  As a frame of reference we have Sequoia National Park.  Out of the 1.5 million visitors a year to the 631 square mile area, four got lost over an eighteen year period.  Two were found alive, two found dead, none are unsolved.  Skimming through google there are many, many more missing person cases in the park not covered here.  Paulides doesn't explain why these four are special or connected aside from him declaring it so.

There's a section on coeds, which is an outdated term for female college students, though here used to describe men and women.  Again he describes four college students disappearing over an eight year period as a "cluster".

Another section on "multiple disappearances", which is even more ill defined than a cluster.  He gives the example of three people disappearing over two years in New York State as being clearly nefarious - without looking it up, I'd wager many more than three went missing over that time period in one of the nation's most populous states.

I thought I was being too hard on this book, until I came across this line:  "I believe that the fact people are alone when they fall is counter to human behavior. I know when I am alone in the woods I take fewer chances than when I'm with a partner, for the obvious reasons. I'm not sure what to make of falling deaths in the woods, but it is another cause of death that is troubling."

In Paulides' world, accidents don't happen.  Why would somebody get lost when they could simply choose not to?  This ties into the conspiratorial theme of the book - the FBI knows more than they're telling, the park services are covering up, etc.

I say theme because there is no fully formed conspiracy.  I would applaud the intellectual honesty of not forming a full conclusion, except that he teases too many things without spelling it out.  In the conclusion section he literally says he used to think one way, now thinks another, and has heard six good hypothesis explaining things.  He does not share these theories, but does call for a Congressional investigation.

There is no "there" here.  This is just a collection of people getting lost, sometimes in parks, sometimes from their homes, sometimes never found, sometimes they come back on their own.  While most are technically mysteries in the sense that we don't know where the bodies are or what exactly happened, technically what I ate for lunch yesterday is a mystery because I've already forgotten.

It has the logic of a conspiracy theory, but lacks the conviction.  It has the vibe of unexplained phenomena, except it is incredibly mundane.  It's also poorly written, poorly formatted, and as dull as dishwater.  I can fall into missing person rabbit holes on the internet all day, but I can't imagine finishing this book, much less reading all the other ones.  I do not understand the following this series has when there are so many better conspiracy theories you can latch onto out there.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Norman Normal (1968)

I remember seeing this years ago and being weirded out by it.  A Warner Brothers cartoon that dips its toe into Freud and psychedelia, while at the same time being incredibly square.  Developed by Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul, and Mary.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The Man From UNCLE 2: The Doomsday Affair by Harry Whitington

The Man From UNCLE 2
The Doomsday Affair
by Harry Whittington

2690559. sy475

Illya and Napoleon meet with a THRUSH defector in Hawaii, only for her face to be blown off by a trick lei.  Then we're off for a series of chases, captures, and escapes, many involving paralyzing nerve gas.  The underlying plot is about as standard as these Bond pastiche's get, but there was enough variety that it didn't get stale.  Better written than Avallone's - Harry Whittington (the author, not the guy Dick Cheney shot in the face) was a highly respected pulpster, but it seems to be the standard that a writer's novelization work doesn't match up to their original material.

A running theme in the books is subject of Waverly's age.  In the last book it was said he was in his sixties but looked a decade younger.  Here, he is in his early 50s.  Leo G. Carrol was 77 (and looked it) when the series started.

I've watched some more of the TV series, and I'm warming up to it, but it probably doesn't lend itself to binge watching.

Paperback from AbeBooks

Monday, May 11, 2020

Fantawild Wuhu

There may be more than one Fantawild, and I've seen several subtitles that may or may not be accurate for each park (Adventure, Dreamworld, etc).

Here's a Small World type boat ride from the Cupcakes and Coasters YouTube channel.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Series Showdown: Horn vs Omen

Horn had a serious dip in appeal for the second book, but Omen II was hot garbage, so Horn moves on to the finals!

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Five Golden Dragons (1967)

A bubblegum salesman accidentally receives a secret message about Five Golden Dragons and gets chased around Hong Kong.  Bob Cummings is our comic lead, bringing all the charm of a 57 year old meth addict.  Christopher Lee and Klaus Kinski have about a minute of screen time.  Worth skipping forward for Margaret Lee's cleavage.  Produced by Harry Alan Towers and filmed at Shaw Brothers Studios.

DVD from Amazon

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Horn 2: Blown Dead by Ben Sloane

Horn 2: Blown Dead
by Ben Sloane
1990, Gold Eagle

Max Horn is back on Earth and is coming to terms with his family's death, toning down from kill crazy genocidal cyborg to a mere cop who plays by his own rules.  He's got a new partner, which gives the book a buddy cop vibe.

The baddies this time around are using virtual reality to skim off bets for the Superbowl, only the hacker has a side deal to take the 200,000 member crowd hostage for drug cartels.

Relatively early in the virtual reality wave of the 90s, after Gibson and Sega, but before Lawnmower Man.  The first installment had jazz, this one has beat poetry, but the series doesn't commit to the late 50s the way Blade Runner did to the 40s.

Good cyborg fighting, but way too many pages for way too little action.  The first volume was unrelenting bleak, where this one feels like an Action Pack made for TV movie from the 90s, like Tek War.

Paperback from AbeBooks

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

TV Obscura - Beane's of Boston

I was watching midnight PBS one night with a British friend and he was terrified to see a few seconds of Grace & Favour under the stupid American title Are You Being Served Again!  He couldn't see why anyone would voluntarily watch Are You Being Served, much less import it.  Unfamiliar with the re-titling, he thought it was only for the American market.

Turns out there was at least an Australian version with John Inman (and who else do you need, really), and this attempt at an American version by Gary Marshall in 1979.

Some good casting, and I'm afraid that my brain is softening in my advancing age to the point where I'm starting to enjoy 70s sitcoms again.  I appreciate their commitment to the original in having the exact same set.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Damien: Omen II by Joseph Howard

Damien: Omen II
by Joseph Howard
1978 Signet

The second film follows Damien into puberty, where he learns of his destiny to become the Anti-Christ while in military school.  The film was only notable for the extended "killed by mysterious forces" sequences, kind of a precursor to the Final Destination films, and the look of some of the cast.

Where the first book had more than the movie, this one somehow has less.  The killings are rushed through, and some of the prose reads like a children's book.  Hopefully Gordon McGill picks things up for the rest of the series.

Paperback from AbeBooks

Monday, May 4, 2020

Audiobooks on Kindle Unlimited

Did you know if you have a Kindle Unlimited account you can listen to free audiobooks?  It's true.  Kinda.  Barely.

First off, there's not very many of them.  Not every title on Audible is available via Kindle Unlimited.  Of the authors we like around here, I was able to find some (but not all) of Richie Tankersley Cusick and Diane Hoh's young adult horror books, a handful of Richard Laymon titles, some Jack Ketchum, some Lee Goldberg, and the Saint novels.

Then there's almost no good way to search for them.  The closest you can start with is searching through this link, but that just narrows it down to books that might have free audiobooks.

You'll see a lot of titles that have a headphone symbol next to the Kindle Unlimited logo.  I don't know what that symbol means, but it doesn't mean there's a free audiobook to KU subscribers.  I've seen it next to books that don't have an audiobook version, and some with audiobooks don't have the symbol.

After being misled by some blogs and Amazon support posts, I went crazy thinking that all of Prologue's books had available free audiobooks, only to crash when that number dwindled to none.

The only way to tell if a title come with a free audiobook to KU subscribers is to look for where you usually click to buy.  If you have a KU membership, instead of saying "Read for Free" it says "Read and Listen for Free".

If you're a KU member and click there, in addition to getting the ebook, an Audible version appears in your Audible library automatically, and is taken out when the book is returned.  You don't need to be an Audible subscriber to access the audiobook, and you can sign into Audible with your Amazon credentials.  Some ereaders will also have an option to click at the bottom of the page, though this may take you to an Audible store link that charges or asks to sign up.

A weird quirk - if you already own an ebook, Amazon won't let you check it out for Kindle Unlimited, and I can't find a workaround to get free access to the audiobook I would have gotten for checking it out.  Clicking on the icon on my tablet just takes me to a buy page.

A disappointment, but Kindle Unlimited was pretty rubbish when it started, too.  I've come around on KU, mainly because there are constant free trials.  By the time my current trial ends, I would have gotten free KU for 5 out of 6 months.

There's currently a deal for free a free KU trial - if you want to give a free KU trial a go, it's risk free - you can cancel any time after signing up and the trial still runs to the end, so if you're one of those who forgets about when trials end, you can cancel early and still use it.

And use my affiliate link, so I don't feel I wasted my entire afternoon for the handful of titles I'll end up enjoying.

Kindle Unlimited Membership Plans

Bullwinkle's Restaurant

The only pneumatics louder than the coffin scene in Haunted Mansion.  There was a Showbiz in my town, but I didn't appreciate the show because there were video games right next door.  Horrible, unplayable games that I had no quarters for.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Series Showdown: Photon vs Space 1999

I almost gave up on Photon.  Not bad for what it was, but I'm not exactly the intended audience, and it didn't have enough nostalgia value for me to make up for it.

Space 1999 didn't do much better, but went down easier, so it limps on to round 2.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

The Cat Creature (1973)

The Cat Creature (1973)

Tepid thriller about a stolen Egyptian amulet and a series of murders around a mystic cat or something.  A partial tribute to movies like the Cat People, notable only for its casting.  We've got Kent Smith, Peter Lorre Jr., John Carradine, and Keye Luke all in cameos.  Meredith Baxter does well, aside from being the love interest for twice as old Felix Leiter.  Written by Robert Bloch.

Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 (1988)

Also called Zombi 3, the fake sequel to Zombi 2, itself the fake sequel to Dawn of the Dead, the real sequel to Night of the Living Dead.  Many, many other films share that title.  Lucio Fulci directed some, Bruno Mattei directed some, nobody's going to want to take credit for this.

There's a zombie outbreak in the Philippines.  The military contains the situation, killing zombie and human alike.  A few so-so gore effects, but mostly just people waving M16s around and people falling over.

Mildly interesting that it cribs some elements from 1985's The Return of the Living Dead, namely a tarman zombie and the spread by incineration smoke.  It's also got these hazmat suited soldiers, a trademark of Mattei's.